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It's the Law

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)

All vessels, including canoes and kayaks, must have at least one USCG–approved wearable PFD (life jacket) for each person on board.

In addition, one USCG–approved throwable PFD must be on board vessels 16 feet or longer (except canoes, kayaks, or stand-up paddleboards).

Besides being USCG–approved, all PFDs must be:

  • In good and serviceable condition.
  • Readily accessible, which means you are able to put the PFD on quickly in an emergency.
  • Of the proper size for the intended wearer. Sizing for PFDs is based on body weight and chest size.
  • Used in accordance with the manufacturer’s label.

Children 10 years of age or younger must wear a type I, II, or III life jacket at all times on all watercraft.

The following persons must wear a USCG–approved Type I, II, III, or V life jacket:

  • Each person on board a PWC (PFD cannot be of inflatable design)
  • Anyone canoeing/kayaking on the Saco River between Hiram Dam and the Atlantic Ocean from Jan. 1 to June 1
  • Anyone on board a vessel on the Penobscot River between the gorge and the head of Big Eddy
  • Anyone on board a vessel on the Kennebec River between Harris Station and Turtle Island, at the foot of Black Brook Rapids

Anyone being towed behind a vessel must wear a USCG–approved life jacket, it cannot be an inflatable PFD

These vessels are exempt from PFD requirements:

  • Licensed canoes owned by a summer camp and used for teaching by a camp counselor at least 18 years old while within 500 feet of the camp's shoreline
  • Log rafts with no more than two persons on board and used on ponds, lakes, or inland waters less than 50 acres in area
  • Float tubes when used for fishing

These persons are exempt from the above PFD requirements:

  • Persons on board a watercraft of the United States operated by foreign competitors while practicing for, or racing in competition, provided there is on board the watercraft one of the sponsoring foreign country’s acceptable flotation devices for each competitor on board
  • Persons within territorial waters while utilizing a beach toy or surfboard in the narrow limits of a swimming, surfing, or bathing area
  • Persons within inland waters while utilizing a beach toy or surfboard in the narrow limits of a swimming area, such as a state park swimming area that is roped off and/or has buoys designating the area.
  • Persons actively engaged in competitive racing or training while in racing sculls, racing canoes, and racing kayaks that are recognized by national racing associations for use in competitive racing
Type I PFD

Wearable Type I: Offshore Life Jackets

These vests are geared for rough or remote waters where rescue may take awhile. They provide the most buoyancy, are excellent for flotation, and will turn most unconscious persons face up in the water.


Wearable Type II: Near-Shore Vests

These vests are good for calm waters when quick rescue is likely. A Near-Shore Vest may not turn some unconscious wearers face up in the water.

Type III inflatable PFDs

Wearable Type III: Flotation Aids

These vests or full-sleeved jackets are good for calm waters when quick rescue is likely. They are not recommended for rough waters since they will not turn most unconscious persons face up. To be acceptable, inflatable Type III devices must be worn.

Type IV inflatable PFDs

Throwable Type IV Devices

These cushions and ring buoys are designed to be thrown to someone in trouble. Since a throwable PFD is not designed to be worn, it is neither for rough waters nor for persons who are unable to hold onto it.

Type V PFD

Wearable Type V: Special-Use Devices

These vests, deck suits, hybrid PFDs, and others are designed for specific activities such as windsurfing, kayaking, or water-skiing. To be acceptable, Special-Use PFDs must be used in accordance with their label.